In addition to the Presidential and US Senate elections, about which I’m pretty sure voters have pretty heard their fill already, Manassas City has a ballot initiative specific to the city this year. The question involves moving municipal elections from May, when they happen now, to Novembers when they’d be down-ticket from a Presidential election. If you want to see how that works out, look no father than the city’s neighbor to the north, Manassas Park, where you’ll see every promise made by proponents of this initiative thoroughly debunked.
One argument made is that this is supposedly going to save money. That was debunked by members of the Manassas City Electoral Board and Linda Womack, the registrar of Manassas City. If cost savings were a key consideration here, taxpayers in Manassas Park certainly didn’t see any benefit as their tax rates certainly didn’t decrease after that decision.
Another argument made in favor of this initiative is that this would increase voter participation. Running down-ballot from a presidential election increases raw vote totals, but it actually decreases the number of voters who are casting ballots based on an informed choice as that election is drowned out by what’s happening higher up on the ticket. Notice how just about no one is aware that there are municipal elections in Manassas Park on Tuesday? In order for a campaign to rise above the noise of the up-ticket races and garner much notice, a campaign would have to raise and spend far more than it does now.
That perhaps is the most significant negative impact of such a decision, and we clearly see the effects in the Park. The mayor there is running uncontested, and for three Governing Board seats there are only four candidates. It’s too expensive and too difficult to run a municipal candidacy underneath a presidential election and as a result you get fewer candidates running for office and fewer choices for voters. During the last municipal election in Manassas you had plenty of choices — including pretty substantial write-in and independent campaigns that got more votes than some party candidates. If you want to end candidacies by independent candidates (like Councilman Steve Randolph), all you have to do is slam them up against a presidential election wave and they’ll disappear in the noise.
Municipal elections in May allow voters to focus on those elections and make informed choices. Campaigns can easily be run out of candidates pockets, without introducing fundraising to the mix. And finally, that’s where the big unanswered question lies: who in the heck is spending all this money on this ballot initiative, and why? The proponents of this measure have been sending out mailings, advertising all over the web, and quite clearly blowing a lot of cash on this, and we have no idea who is funding that campaign. All we know is that Steve Hersch is the treasurer of the initiative, and he’s been donating exclusively to liberal democrats for years until he ponied up over $20,000 of what is reported as his own money to support this.
Who in the heck drops $22,552 of their own money to support a ballot initiative in a place like Manassas City, especially after having donated no more than $1,100 to any one candidate ever before? Either Hersch stands to gain something massive if this is successful, or Hersch is bundling contributions from other donors in violation of Virginia campaign finance reporting laws in order to let those folks hide their identities. Since there’s hardly any plausible reason to believe that there’s much of a way to personally gain from something like this, the latter option is far more likely. Hopefully after the election there will be cause to have this investigated, although it’s doubtful Democrat and Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert would ever do so, given his famously blind eye towards any corruption involving his political allies. Likely another opportunity for Democrats to flout the law because no one is wiling to hold them accountable.
Not only is this initiative a bad idea, but it’s pretty obvious the effort to pass it involves some pretty significant political corruption. Vote no.
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